Rex Fortescue, family patriarch and business man, is found dead in his office, apparently poisoned by his morning tea. Rather oddly, one of his jacket pockets is full of rye. His widow is found poisoned in her rooms, after eating bread with honey. And a housemaid, Gladys, is found strangled with a clothes peg on her nose…
With echoes of a nursery rhyme bouncing around his head, Inspector Neale finds himself tackling his most difficult case yet. With a plethora of suspects, he is rather at a loss to make sense of it all. Luckily the person who trained Gladys turns up to find out what happened to her. Even more luckily, that person happens to be from St Mary Mead. You might have heard of her…
First off, take a look at the blurb on this book – it’s from 1959, six years after the original publication, and look who doesn’t get a mention. In fact, she’s barely in it, showing up about halfway through and then disappearing again to explain whodunit to Neale. Looking at the notes on the book in John Curran’s “Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks”, she only gets a mention towards the end of the notes, so it looks to me as if she wasn’t in the initial plans. Despite her brief appearance though, Miss Marple’s appearance lends a emotional weight to the tale that is sometimes missing from Christie’s tales. Still, it’s rather odd that she wasn’t used to sell the book.
I think this is one of Christie’s most underrated tales. She doesn’t follow her usual tricks and there’s a plethora of red herrings to distract the reader. The murderer’s plan is clever (although highly risky, especially one aspect) and the nursery rhyme aspect – often derided as irrelevant – actually make sense (in a slightly insane kind of way). Her writing is on top form here as well – it’s quite a page turner in fact and never seems to stand still.
One mystery though – why is it A Pocket Full Of Rye when, in the poem (even when quoted in the novel) is a pocketful of rye? Always bothered me, that one.
I’ve been re-reading the Miss Marple books – you can find the reviews on my Agatha Christie page here – and I think this is probably my favourite. It’s a clever puzzle with a clever murderer, a great read, and Highly Recommended.
This review is Book 3 of my attempt at Readathon UK for the school where I work – ten books between 6th Feb and 5th March. If you want to make a donation to the children’s charities that they support, then please visit their Just Giving page.